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Watch for signs of bird flu

Posted: August 29, 2015 - 11:12pm

If you regularly follow the news, you might have noticed several recent stories about a new strain of bird flu affecting poultry production across the United States. Although it has not yet been detected in Georgia, it has the potential to significantly impact our poultry industry.

This latest strain of Avian Influenza (AI) was first detected in wild birds and backyard flocks in the western part of the country. It has been detected in turkeys and laying hens in the Midwest, causing 50 million birds to be euthanized.

The influenza is spread by migratory birds. It is passed on to other birds by fecal material and can easily spread through drinking water sources, like ponds and lakes. Wild birds carrying the virus usually show no outward symptoms, however it causes high mortality rates in commercial birds. Luckily, this strain of influenza has not been shown to easily pass to humans from birds, and it cannot be contracted by properly prepared meat products.

Migratory birds fly to Canada in the summer via four major flyways. So far, this virus hasn’t been detected in the Eastern Flyway, which passes over parts of Georgia. However, as fall approaches, migratory waterfowl will be returning over Georgia after interacting in Canada with other possibly infected birds.

Georgia has a $38 billion poultry industryt. Local poultry producers have already begun instituting strict biosecurity practices on their chicken farms. Outside access to poultry houses is severely limited, and any person or vehicle entering the property must be disinfected at several points on the farm.

Local emergency management agencies are partnering with the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the USDA to prepare for the worst and quickly contain any detected infection.

Even if you are not a poultry farmer, people play an important role in helping prevent accidental spread of avian influenza. Avoid walking or driving near poultry houses. Because the virus is spread by fecal material, anyone could accidentally cause an infection by bringing in feces on car tires or their shoes.

If you have a small backyard flock of chickens, your biosecurity practices are very important. Limit the amount of outside contact with your flock. Make sure to regularly wash all tools and clothing that come in contact with your birds.

Avoid watering your birds from open water sources such as ponds, as the virus can stay active in water sources for several months. Be sure to avoid other backyard bird flocks.

Symptoms of avian influenza in your backyard flock will include sudden bird death, nasal discharge, watery, green-colored diarrhea, swelling around the eyes and head, and a general lack of energy.

If you believe your backyard flock has contracted the virus you should report it immediately to the Georgia Department of Agriculture on their Web site or by calling Animal Health at (404) 656-3667.

Tripp Williams, Columbia County’s agriculture and natural resource extension agent, can be reached at (706) 541-4011, ortrippj@uga.edu.

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